Goffredo PETRASSI (1904-2003)
Partita for orchestra (1932) [18:21]
Quattro Inni Sacri for male voice (tenor and baritone) and orchestra (1942, orch. 1950) [17:09]
Noche oscura: Cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra (1950-1) [19:15]
Coro di morti: dramatic madrigal for male voices, three pianos, brass, double-basses and percussion (1940-1) [14:25]
Giorgio Berrugi (tenor), Vasily Ladyuk (baritone)
Coro Teatro Regio Torino/Claudio Fenoglio
Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. Teatro Regio, Torino, Italy, 2013/14
CHANDOS CHAN10840 [69:29]
Petrassi was born in 1904, the same year as Dallapiccola
and a generation earlier than Nono, Maderna and Berio. For most of his
long life he worked within the neo-classical idiom established by Stravinsky
though later he flirted with serialism. His friends included Elliott
Carter and his pupils Peter Maxwell Davies. He has been less well known
than other Italian modernists but recordings are now putting that right.
Here we have four works, all but one vocal or choral. The exception
is Partita, the earliest work and the one
which established Petrassi’s reputation. This is in three movements,
fast-slow-fast, though with numerous variations of tempo and mood within
each. It opens with great energy but there is a contrast with a more
lyrical theme on the saxophone, not an instrument usually favoured by
neo-classical composers. The second movement is a grave elegy with interjections
from muted brass. The third is again vigorous but with an undercurrent
of unease, hardly surprising considering when it was written. There
is a superficial cheerfulness but as of a ballet of ghosts. I was reminded
of the neo-classical works of Martinů of this period.
Quattro Inni Sacri are four sacred hymns,
two set for tenor and two for baritone, with orchestra. The singers
never sing together and the requirement for two in a comparatively short
work must militate against frequent performance. The four hymns are
Jesu dulcis memoria (Jesus the very thought of thee), Te
lucis ante terminum (Before the ending of the day), Lucis Creator
optime (O blest Creator of the light) and Salvete Christi vulnera
(Hail, holy wounds of Jesus, hail). The first three are medieval, the
last seventeenth century, written for the Feast of the Most Precious
Blood. They come from the Roman breviary, the then standard Catholic
prayer-book. The translations of the first lines I have given are not
those in the booklet but those you will find in English hymn books if
you want to look them up. Petrassi’s vocal writing is angular
but lyrical, very like that of Stravinsky in Oedipus Rex, though
this work is much later, having been conceived in 1942 and finished
in 1950. His settings are very varied in mood and also extravert, rather
disconcerting to someone who considers the first three hymns to be contemplative.
Salvete Christi vulnera, despite the gruesome subject, so characteristic
of counter-reformation piety, is actually given a jubilant setting.
The two soloists cope convincingly with their lines; their declamatory
style seems a bit alien to the text but may be part of the idiom of
Noche oscura (Dark Night), for mixed chorus
and orchestra, sets the most celebrated poem by the sixteenth century
Spanish mystic and poet St John of the Cross. This uses the erotic imagery
of the lover finding his beloved, taken from the Biblical Song of
Songs, to represent the soul’s union with God. It begins,
in Roy Campbell’s classic translation:
Upon a gloomy night
With all my cares to loving ardours flushed
(O venture of delight!)
With nobody in sight
I went abroad when all my house was hushed.
And it ends:
Lost to myself I stayed
My face upon my lover having laid
From all endeavour ceasing:
And all my cares releasing
Threw them down amongst the lilies there to fade.
Petrassi uses a chromatic theme which undergoes various permutations
throughout the work. Most of this is intense, quiet and hermetic. The
winding lines in the voices supported by a harmony at once harsh and
soft successfully evoke the spiritual ecstasy of the poem. There is
a sense both of power and of restraint. The assured singing of the chorus,
for which chorus master Claudio Fenoglio must be praised, makes for
a successful performance of a most impressive work.
Coro di morti (Chorus of the Dead) sets a
poem by the nineteenth century Italian poet Leopardi, which begins,
in the English version by Eamon Grennan:
Only immortal in the world,
Terminus of all things living
Our nature – naked as it is –
Comes, Death, to rest in you;
The scoring is for male voices with the unusual, indeed inconvenient
combination of three pianos, brass, double basses and percussion. This
suggests the Stravinsky of Les Noces, and indeed the work is
Stravinskian though I also seem to hear the influence of Hindemith’s
Concert music for piano, brass and harps. The work opens with
marching rhythms which rise to a climax and resume from time to time.
There are two orchestral interludes, one fast and fugal in the brass,
the other more varied. Despite the sombre theme this is a varied and
not a gloomy work. Again the chorus work is fine.
Noseda clearly knows these scores and he secures enthusiastic playing
from his Italian orchestra. The booklet has notes in four languages
– the English one is rather floridly Italianate but conveys the
necessary information - and the sung texts with English prose translations.
The recording is adequate. This is faint praise for Chandos who have
done a great deal for twentieth century Italian music; perhaps their
engineers were not wholly comfortable in the Teatro Regio in Turin.
I notice that their Dallapiccola recordings were made in Manchester
Whereas there have been several recordings of Partita, and
both Coro di Morti and Quattro Inni Sacri appeared
on a recent Naxos
disc which Hubert Culot liked, this seems to be the only recording of
Noche oscura. As it seems to me the finest work on the disc,
and the other are interesting too, this is well worth having.
Information received from Colin Mackie:
There is another recording of the Cantata "Noche Oscura".
It is on a cd released on the Italian Ermitage label with the chorus
and orchestra of Radio della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Francis
Irving Travis and recorded in Lugano in 1970. That disc (ERM 145) also
includes the 4 Inni Sacri, the Recreation Concertante(Concerto for Orchestra
No.3), the Sonata da Camera for harpsichord and ten instruments(1948)
and "Sesto Non-Senso" for a cappella chorus.